Halfway through the second quarter of the Tennessee Titans-St. Louis Rams match-up on Sunday afternoon, Titans fans must have felt like they had awakened on Christmas morning to a lump of coal in their stocking.
After Tennessee started the game with a 39-yard rush and a 66-yard pass reception for touchdowns—courtesy of Chris Johnson—to take an early 14-0 lead, Titans quarterback Vince Young was flushed form the pocket on first-and-10 and took off downfield for a 44-yard scamper, the longest of his professional career. But even though the run picked up a first down, it proved to be costly.
At the end of the run it was visibly apparent that something wasn't right; Young slowed noticeably and angled out of bounds quickly, where he subsequently collapsed on the sidelines. As he grabbed his leg in pain, Kerry Collins, last season's heroic quarterback and this season's pariah, quickly sprang into action to come out in relief of Young.
Depending on your point of view, it was somewhat fortunate that Young was plagued by leg pain throughout the week, giving Collins time to get enough reps in practice to be prepared for this eventuality.
The preparation paid off; after a slightly slow start, Collins was able to end the game with 11-of-19 completions for 154 yards and a touchdown, which happened to be tight end Algee Crumpler's first home touchdown in over a year.
More importantly, Collins played with poise and control, making smart plays, and controlling both the clock and the ball as he helped finish leading the Titans to a 47-7 drubbing of the erstwhile Rams.
With their victory over St. Louis, Tennessee keeps their playoff hopes alive, at least mathematically. Losses by Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Denver, and Cincinnati served to tighten an AFC playoff race where it is already standing room only for the wild-card seeds. At 6-7 the Titans will likely need help from other teams in the form of late-season collapses, but with Miami still ahead on the schedule, Tennessee at least has an opportunity to influence the outcome of their late-season drive.
More importantly, however, is the injury to quarterback Vince Young. His availability will dictate the Titans' gameplan from this point forward; having already established that they are potential contenders with Young and Johnson both in the backfield, the re-insertion of Kerry Collins will have a drastic effect on not only their playoff chances, but Chris Johnson's pursuit of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record.
Without Young to draw defenses' attention, Johnson may find himself fighting a bigger uphill battle than he already faces; his last two week's production have left him needing nearly 160 yards per game for the remainder of the season to beat Dickerson's 2,105.
Be that as it may, the Titans are still in the hunt; with or without Young they are going to have to find a way to run the table on the rest of the season. Do that, and they will set their own team record: no team has ever started a season with six straight losses and come back to make the playoffs.
And after all, team is what it's all about anyway, right?